Catawba football notebook: Fire put football in perspective

By Ronnie Gallagher, The Salisbury Post

When David Bennett walked into Western Steer Tuesday for his weekly press conference, the Catawba College football coach admitted it had been a shocking weekend on campus — and not because of his team’s first loss in 23 regular season games.

Carson-Newman’s 40-34 double-overtime win meant nothing after a fire at the Foil House claimed the life of student Andrew Grooms.“When you come home and a situation like that happens, you give thanks for all the players and remaining students who weren’t caught up in that fire,” Bennett said.

“Your heart goes out to Andrew Grooms’ family because you grieve for them over the loss of their son.

“It makes losing a football game not quite so bad. You count your blessings.”


POLLS: If there was a positive that came from the loss, it was that Catawba did not drop out of the top four in the South Region of Division II.

In a fickle playoff system, only the top four in four regions make the postseason.

Catawba, 7-1, had been second, behind Valdosta State. Tuskegee moved into second.

Bennett wasn’t pleased that Central Arkansas, 8-1, of the Gulf South climbed from sixth to third, while carrying a loss. And he knows No. 5 Winston-Salem State isn’t happy. Central Arkansas leapfrogged the Rams, despite the fact it threw a 17-0 shutout over J.C. Smith.

In the national polls, Catawba dropped to 10th.

But Bennett knows that if the Indians win their final two games over Mars Hill and Lenoir-Rhyne, both at home, the playoffs will still be there.


HOMECOMING: This is not a week football coaches enjoy, Bennett said.

It’s Homecoming.

He tells his players to forget about all the campus contests, like kissing the pig, and all the pageantry and all the queens. Concentrate on playing Mars Hill, he urges his players.

Suddenly, this game could decide the South Atlantic Conference title.

Mars Hill is 7-2 overall and is tied for first at 4-1 with Catawba and Tusculum.


NOT PERFECT: The record isn’t perfect any longer and neither was the defense Saturday night.

While watching the film, coaches counted 20 missed tackles by the usually-perfect-tackling machines.

“The number you shoot for in missed tackles is five,” Bennett scoffed. “So that wasn’t very good at all. But a lot of the credit goes to the Carson-Newman backs.”

Antwon Oliver, for instance, weighs in at 250.

“It’s hard to simulate tackling a 250-pound running back in practice,” Bennett said. “Most of our 250-pounders are playing on the line.”


STILL TOPS: Even with a 40-point outing, the defense still leads the nation in scoring defense at 9.1 per game.

“We know we’re a better defensive football team than we showed at Carson-Newman,” Bennett said.


SECOND THOUGHTS: Matt Gross missed a 29-yard field goal in the final seconds of regulation that could’ve won the game, 30-27. Bennett didn’t call a timeout but wonders now whether he should have.

“I didn’t call one because you don’t want to freeze your own kicker,” he reasoned.

But if he had it to do over, he would’ve called for time. Carson-Newman came right over center and blocked Gross’ kick. It never had a chance.

“Matt and I both thought they would call a timeout,” Bennett said. “Last year, they called one and it didn’t work (Gross kicked a field goal to win the game in the final seconds 13-10). It worked out for them this time.”


MEANS WATCH: Nick Means continues his assault on Catawba’s receiving records.

The junior moved into fifth place on the all-time receptions and yardage lists.

He now has 106 catches for 1,642 yards. He is five grabs behind J.R. Gibson and six behind Vince Haydock for third.


STREAK: Cedric Squirewell caught two passes, extending his school record for games with a catch to 30.


RODZILLA:Freshman bull Rodney Wallace’s 188 yards rushing left him 191 yards shy of the freshman record, held by Netto Purnsley, set in 1986.


AROUND THE SAC: Last week, Tusculum beat Newberry 42-12, Mars Hill took care of Wingate 28-14 and Presbyterian beat Lenoir-Rhyne 41-7.

This week’s games include Tusculum at Presbyterian, Carson-Newman at Wingate and Lenoir-Rhyne at Newberry.

Tusculum is moving up the national and regional polls. The Pioneers are 12th in the nation and seventh in the South.


NOTES: Bennett is now 59-16 in his seven years here. ... Saturday’s game with Mars Hill is at 1:30 p.m. ... Quarterback Luke Samples completed 11 passes against C-N for 172 yards.


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